How Women Won the First Debate

Chris Jahnke | Jul 23, 2019


In round one, the ladies ruled the presidential primary debate. For the most part, they hit the stage ready to display their leadership qualities in a high-pressure situation with limited speaking time. Here’s a look at the winning strategies from the first debate and what to expect in round two.

Take a Risk

When Sen. Kamala Harris directly challenged Joe Biden on race, it was a gamble that paid off. The moment went viral, raising her profile and spiking fundraising. It was effective because Harris personalized the exchange by telling the former VP that his comments about segregationists were “hurtful.” She went on to say that as a young girl she had been a beneficiary of school busing, a policy Biden had opposed in the Senate. We’ll hear more personal stories crafted to evoke emotion in the next debate.

Be Plain-Spoken

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is one of the country’s leading experts on bankruptcy law but self-describes as someone who wanted “to know why families go broke.” The woman with a plan to restructure government to benefit working families rather than one-percenters is the strongest communicator in the field. Her policy proposals are detailed, and yet easily digestible. Warren uses the debate stage like the campaign trail – as a way to connect with people on what they care about. No problem is too large or small to fix. Prior to the first debate, she responded to a Tweet from a woman seeking help with her love life: “DM (direct message) me and we will figure this out.”

Cover the Basics

If there was someone who missed an opportunity, it was author Marianne Williamson.  Without candidate introductions, it was thirty minutes before voters heard from her. When finally asked a question, Williamson responded with bold ideas but didn’t take time to tell us who she is and why she cares, which is especially important for candidates trying to break through.

Stay Engaged

The best moments are often the unscripted ones. Sen. Harris had a line that broke through the clutter but sounded packaged: “America doesn’t want to witness a food fight they want to know how we will put food on their tables.” Active listening can reap a greater reward. When Gov. Jay Inslee bragged about his record on reproductive health care, Sen. Amy Klobuchar had an agile response: “There’s three women up here who have fought pretty hard for a woman’s right to choose.” The quick retort highlighted her own record and generously shared credit with her sisters in the Senate.

It’s a good time to be a woman running for the highest executive office. The Women’s March and the #MeToo movement have created an environment where more people are ready to listen when women speak. The debate stage is a powerful platform for the women candidates to present themselves as viable alternatives to the status quo.

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